Making a (No) Left Turn

The deal to work as a private groundskeeper that summer was struck between Dad and one of his well-to-do customers.  Starting on the first sunny day of summer vacation, I quickly learned to appreciate working outside for the prevailing minimum wage, a buck twenty-five an hour.

That summer job enabled me to buy a new bass guitar.  The band needed a bassist and I thought four strings were way cooler than six anyway.  It was a Kalamazoo KB, manufactured by the respected Gibson guitar company but it sported a Fender Mustang body style.  Years later it was rumored the material comprising its body was manufactured from the same wood product used in making toilet seats.  The joke was that it sounded like crap.  In spite of that, it was Gibson’s best-selling bass guitar at the time and it sounded pretty good to me.

I really had two jobs that summer.  The other one was auditioning drummers.  It was light work compared to mowing and reseeding lawns.  Bruce was the first guy who lugged a complete drum set down the basement steps, assembled it, and immediately demonstrated the solo to Wipe Out.  The rest of us joined in, adding yet another three-chord opus to our growing repertoire.  The adolescent bathroom humor would eventually find its way into our public performances as we’d introduce the number as “our favorite toilet paper song.”

Whether it was the audition itself or the fact that Bruce owned a complete drum kit with cymbals, kick bass, and high hat that tipped the scale in his favor, I’m not sure.  Regardless, we now had a real drummer and could learn more songs.  We wasted no time practicing at decibel levels approaching the stratosphere.  To this day, my mother claims to have enjoyed every minute of it.  Mom is a saint.

“If you don’t mind, I’ll just leave my drums here,” Bruce said when we’d finished the audition and it was time for everyone to go home.  “I have practice pads at home.” That inspired my cousin to leave his amp and so my parents’ basement was instantly transformed into our permanent rehearsal hall.  After a couple more practice sessions, Bruce phoned me one evening to suggest getting business cards printed up.  “My brother is a photographer,” he explained.  “We could pose for some pictures and use them for publicity with the cards. By the way, what’s the name of our band?”
When I responded “O-Geez,” I thought he’d never stop laughing.
“OK, we need a new name,” I confessed.  “Let’s think about it.”

Saturday rolled around and I met Carl at a local coffee shop.  Sitting across from each other in a booth next to the front window, I ordered a Coke and Carl ordered coffee.  “We need a new name for the band,” I said.  He looked at me, looked down at the menu, and then stared out the window for a minute before he spoke.
“How about the No Left Turns?” he asked, still staring out the window.
“Huh?”
“No Left Turns”
“For the band?”
“Yeah”
I thought a while, stirring the ice in my Coke with a straw. “Where did that come from?”
“Take a look outside,” he said, nodding his head in the direction of the window.
I craned my neck to look through the glass over my shoulder.  There it was.  Posted under the red stop sign at the parking lot exit was another sign that read “No Left Turn.”
“Cool. I like it!”  From that point on, our band would be the No Left Turns.

We continued to practice in the basement.  One day Bruce hitched a ride over with his older brother, Gordy, an amateur photographer with a 35mm SLR camera and darkroom.  “Gordy thinks we should have some publicity pictures to go along with our new business cards,” Bruce exclaimed, bounding down the stairs.  Then he pulled out a box with freshly printed business cards.  Centered on each was “Music by the No Left Turns” and the tagline “(We Gotta Be Right).” At the bottom was Bruce’s home phone number.  Our names were printed individually in each corner of the card.  It was a masterpiece.

nltcard

The day was overcast and Gordy thought it would be perfect for taking some pictures.  The five of us piled into his Chevrolet Bel Air and headed downtown.  “I already scoped out the perfect location,” he announced as we parked just around the corner from the Beloit State Bank.  We climbed out and ambled over to a spot where the bank’s drive-through exited to Grand Avenue.  And there it was.  The most beautiful “No Left Turn” sign we’d ever seen, mounted under a stop sign on a post behind a flowering shrub.  Across the street, the Corinthian columns of the post office formed a perfect backdrop.  Gordy shot an entire roll of black and white film as we posed in various ways.  A week later we saw the 8×10 prints and understood.  The No Left Turns were driving straight up the road to stardom.  No turning back… or left.

65_NLT_Carl
The No Left Turns: Bruce, Joe, Mike, Carl

 

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